New rules governing landlord and tenant rights released

The Yukon's new Residential Landlord and Tenant Act will come into effect in January, following the government's release of new regulations this week. 

The Yukon’s new Residential Landlord and Tenant Act will come into effect in January, following the government’s release of new regulations this week.

The regulations come three years after the act was tabled in November 2012.

The current legislation has not been substantially updated since 1972.

“I think tenants and landlords are better protected under this legislation, because there’s a lot more clarity,” said Shane Hickey, director of employment standards and residential tenancies.

Under the new legislation, landlords would only be permitted to increase rent once every year. The act also establishes a dispute resolution process that will allow landlords and tenants to resolve their differences out of court.

However, there is a $50 application fee for anyone who wishes to resolve a dispute, and a $75 fee for a review of a decision.

Hickey said the fees were designed to discourage “frivolous” disputes. He added that there will be a way for people to waive the fee if they are unable to pay.

The legislation also introduces a set of minimum standards for rental properties. Landlords must maintain the property, plumbing, and appliances in good condition, must keep the property well-ventilated and free of pest infestations, and must not require that the tenant use a cooking appliance or a space heater as a primary source of heat.

The act does not apply to emergency shelters, transitional housing, group homes, or similar housing provided by the government or First Nations. But it does apply to anyone living in hotels and motels for longer than six months.

However, that six-month minimum is a concern for Wenda Bradley, executive director of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society Yukon, who said many of her clients who spend time living in hotels are there for less than six months. That means they won’t be covered under the new regulations.

She said hotels are often noisy, and general repairs can be neglected. Managers can also get into a “tug-of-war” with tenants when they lose keys, she added. Under the new rules, landlords will be allowed to charge tenants for replacement of a lost key, but only for the direct cost of the replacement.

Bradley also worries that hotels and other landlords might try to evict longer-term tenants before they reach six months, to avoid having to adhere to the regulations.

The legislation does have a clause that Hickey said “basically prevents landlords evicting tenants solely to avoid the legislation.” Tenants who feel they’ve been forced out unfairly can launch a dispute resolution.

But Bradley said it’s not necessarily fair to place that burden on the tenant.

“If the client has to be the complainant, then that puts them in a tough position. For our folks particularly, it’s hard for them to do. Do they have the skill to do that and walk through the process of complaining?”

Bill Thomas, co-chair of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, said the six-month minimum and the application fee for dispute resolutions concern him. But he called the new legislation a “huge step forward.”

“I think there’s been a general perception over time that… the balance of power between the landlord and the tenant is usually in the landlord’s favour. A lot of people believe that. So the regulations can contribute to a more appropriate balance.”

But NDP Community Services critic Kevin Barr said the new act is “lacking in some teeth.”

He pointed out that although rent can only be increased once per year, there is no cap on how much that increase can be. He said he knows of tenants whose rent has more than doubled from one year to the next. And he said people who own mobile homes but have to pay rent on their pads could be forced out if rent goes up too quickly.

“What do people do then with a mobile home? Many of the mobile homes are very aged,” he said. “You can’t just hook it up and tow it out of there.”

Barr is also disappointed that landlords are still allowed to evict tenants without cause.

The regulations have been a long time coming. But Hickey said the three years since the act was tabled were necessary.

“Although there was a delay, the main concern was that at the end of the day there was something that could be administered effectively,” he said. “Our main concern is that we have an effective piece of legislation that balances both the property rights of landlords with the housing rights of tenants.”

Hickey said public information sessions about the new legislation will be coming soon.

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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